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The government signed off on a bill Friday for overhauling the immigration system in an attempt to prevent illegal entry by handing full control of alien registration to the central government.

The proposal to revise the immigration law is in response to criticism that the dual administrative structure surrounding immigration control is being exploited for illegal stays in Japan.

At present, the government is in charge of immigration and the granting of permission for residency, while municipalities are in charge of issuing alien cards, popularly known as “gaijin cards.”

The bill proposes that the government take charge of the act of issuing registration cards to foreigners living in Japan more than three months. The card contains the individual’s name, photo, nationality and visa information.

According to Justice Ministry estimates, municipalities have inadvertently issued registration cards to about 20,000 foreigners staying illegally in Japan, a problem that has been blamed on the state’s lack of legal authority to investigate registration data.

Under the revamped immigration control system, harsher penalties would be given to those living in Japan illegally. The punishment would range, for example, from prison terms of one to 10 years for forged registration cards.

The bill would also extend the maximum period of stay for foreign residents to five years, in principle, instead of three. This is to make the process more convenient for those staying in Japan legally.

Another pillar of the new immigration control system is improved working status for foreign vocational trainees, who would be guaranteed legal protection for wages and labor conditions after engaging in on-the-job training programs for two months or longer.

At present, such protection is accorded only to those who continue on-the-job programs for at least one year.

The government will submit the legislation, which was OK’d by the Cabinet, to the Diet soon for enactment.

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